Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce Recipe (Carolina Style)

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An easy and versatile homemade Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce. This recipe is inspired by barbecue in the Carolinas and great on low and slow pork and chicken. This vinegar-based sauce is a tangy sauce with a hint of sweet.

Vinegar sauces have a liquid texture versus the thicker KC Style sauce, and have a base of apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, and spices like black pepper.

Vinegar Based Carolina Style BBQ Sauce in a jar
Vinegar sauces have a liquid texture versus the thicker KC Style sauce.

We love and respect all worlds of BBQ and various styles of BBQ sauces. For a rundown on different styles of sauces see this Guide to Regional BBQ Sauces from around the United States.

Carolina BBQ Sauce

This barbecue sauce is inspired by Carolina style BBQ, and is easy to adapt to whatever you like. A North Carolina BBQ sauce is most commonly a simple and quick vinegar based BBQ Sauce that’s great on pulled pork and chicken

  • Eastern Carolina typically consists of sauces that are heavy in vinegar and spices and generally thin and lighter sauces. 
  • Western Style Carolina sauce, or Lexington style sauce, is typically a more traditional tomato or ketchup based sauce with butter. It’s sweeter and thicker.
  • South Carolina BBQ sauce is typically a mustard based sauce.

Our recipe is a nod to both styles but heavily influenced by Eastern Carolina style sauce because that is our personal favorite and amazing on pork shoulder and ribs.

See below in the recipe card on how to embellish it to make it a mustard-based sauce (Carolina Gold), which is another amazing Carolina gem.

When I think of Carolina style BBQ I think of whole hog smoking, ribs, and all things pork. Pork isn’t everything, but is a big influence among the greatest pit masters throughout the region. Because of the acidity, we find this vinegar based style of sauce to be a great pairing for BBQ and wine or to adapt with a little bit of fruit jam.

Vinegar Based Carolina BBQ Sauce on a spoon
Thin sauce with a tangy flavor.

Ingredients for Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

Our goal with this vinegar-based bbq sauce is balancing the acidity and the heat for balance on the taste buds. There is no liquid smoke in this simple recipe.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar – We like the sweeter flavor of apple versus white or white wine vinegar. It’s naturally sweeter.
  • Ketchup – This adds thickness and sweetness. We don’t use tomato paste as it’s too concentrated.
  • Dark Brown Sugar – Unlike sweet molasses-based BBQ sauces, like KC style sauce, the brown sugar is added to contribute a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Black Pepper – We use whole black peppercorns and let it simmer with the sauce for a little heat.
  • Seasoning – Chili powder adds earthiness, kosher salt helps balance the acid, and dry mustard for a savory mouthfeel.
  • Heat – This is the secret ingredient that brings the flavors together. We use red chili pepper flakes and hot sauce. You can use a spicy sauce or mild sauce, whatever is your preference. If you like a more concentrated heat flavor you can substitute the chili pepper flakes with cayenne pepper (but use small portions).

How to Make a Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce

This style of sauce comes together fast and easy.

  1. Simply combine ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar and spices all dissolve. Bring to a low simmer and cook 10-15 minutes, then turn off the heat. 
  2. Strain the sauce into a bowl to remove the chili pepper flakes and peppercorns. Then, when cool, place BBQ sauce into a jar with a tight sealing lid. Store in the refrigerator. 
  3. See notes to jazz up the recipe


After we have simmered the sauce and let come to room temperature we store the sauce in the refrigerator. Because the pH level of this sauce is so high it has a long shelf life in the refrigerator of up to one year. But it won’t last that long because you are going to use this simple sauce all the time.

Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce in a glass jar

Frequently Asked Questions

​What state is known for vinegar based BBQ sauce?

North Carolina and South Carolina are the states where the vinegar and mustard style sauces originated.

How long will a vinegar based BBQ sauce last in the refrigerator?

Up to one year because it’s vinegar based with a high pH level.

Which style of BBQ sauce is vinegar based?

A Carolina BBQ sauce recipe is the style.

Want More BBQ Sauce Recipes?

From mustard sauce to chimichurri we have a whole range of original barbecue sauce recipe options.

And for a rundown on different styles of BBQ sauces, check out this post. 

What to use this Carolina Vinegar Sauce On

This will make any pork recipe shine, from pulled pork to whole hog. Here are a few of our favorites:

*This post was originally published in 2014 and updated in 2023 with new recipe details and specifics on ingredients. The original recipe remains the same.

About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

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“This book is a one-stop guide for anyone truly interested in elevating their BBQ experience into a culinary work of art.”
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Carolina Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce in a jar
4.65 from 48 votes

Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce Recipe (Carolina Style)

Easy and basic vinegar based BBQ sauce that's great on pulled pork and chicken, inspired by Carolina Style BBQ.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 3 cups


  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup hot sauce, (we err towards a savory style hot sauce, like Valentina)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons whole peppercorn
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard


  • Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar and spices all dissolve. Bring to a low simmer and cook 10-15 minutes, then turn off the heat. 
  • Strain the sauce into a bowl to remove the chili pepper flakes and peppercorns (and discard the pepper flakes and peppercorns). Then, when cool, place BBQ sauce into a jar with a tight sealing lid. Store in the refrigerator. 


For more heat, add more chili pepper flakes and let it sit unstrained for a period of time.
Want to jazz up this sauce? Try adding mustard and honey!

Mustard Based BBQ Sauce 

  • 2 Cups Vinegar Based Sauce (from above)
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard (I find yellow mustard a touch acidic)
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat up, whisk to incorporate the honey and mustard until a simmer, then turn off heat. If you like it a sweeter style, just add more honey.


Calories: 302kcal | Carbohydrates: 66g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 3687mg | Potassium: 655mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 55g | Vitamin A: 2108IU | Vitamin C: 25mg | Calcium: 102mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: BBQ, Barbecue
Servings: 3 cups
Calories: 302
Keyword: BBQ sauce, Carolina Style BBQ Sauce, homemade BBQ sauce, Vinegar based BBQ sauce
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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. I actually have a question, not a comment. Does the recipe actually call for 1Tablespoon of salt or is this an error?

    1. Ruthie, yes I know that may look like a typo – but with three cups of liquid and no MSG added, the salt helps balance the acidity and the sugar. If you are on a low sodium diet, feel free to start with 1 teaspoon, it’s easier to add after the fact too.

  2. Barbecue is one of the most American food. It has numerous regional variations, like the Memphis sticky ribs, Central Texas smoked brisket, along with Kansas City’s burnt ends, and the Carolinas vinegar-and-mustard-sauced pig. The iconic cuisine is much more than you think.

  3. 5 stars
    Thank you for this awesome recipe! My husband just requested this sauce to go with the pork I have simmering in the crockpot. The first time I made it was last summer. I took it on a camping trip where I served BBQ to a group of friends. They loved it!

    1. Cindy that is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing. We love Carolina or vinegar based sauces on pork, so I bet that simmering dish is going to be amazing.

  4. 5 stars
    Best base recipe out there. I added more of some things and added a little garlic and onion powder and used Franks just because I put that *&%# on everything. lol

  5. 5 stars
    What a great sauce recipe! I made bbq for Christmas, something I’ve never done before. It was gone !! All of it! I’m making another batch for new year’s!

    1. Awesome! That sauce lasts months in the fridge too with the vinegar, so you get to keep on enjoying it! Happy New Year!